Winchester Community High School teachers, students and administrators alike agree that gifts by philanthropist and retired industrialist Larry Fast have been a game-changer for the school’s industrial trades program. From the classroom floor where the metal meets the lathe, it seems much more like a life-changer, pure and simple.

As the benefactor of the Larry E. Fast Advanced Manufacturing Center at WCHS, he last year donated $250,000 to get the program established. He recently donated an additional $50,000 for the purchase of additional machines that mean students can practice, work, and earn industrial certification on the type of computerized machinery they will use on the job when hired into the workforce.

Fast, who has also established a scholarship through the Winchester Foundation to help pay for the cost of continued education in manufacturing for local students, said he was considering adding to the scholarship fund when Randolph Central Superintendent Rolland Abraham shared a picture of students waiting for a turn to use the school’s CNC machine.

“I decided to defer the increase to the scholarship fund and add two more machines to help students who are taking the class,” Fast said.

Abraham said Fast’s recent contribution allowed the school to purchase a Bridgeport mill and all the tooling that goes with it and a Summit 1440 lathe and the tooling that it requires as well.

“It is important that the kids learn to use these manual machines before we put them on the CNC Haas mill and lathe,” Abraham said. “What that means for kids is they will get more time on the manual machines which means more experience when they look for work, including specific industry certifications on the individual machines.”

He said completion of the Advanced Manufacturing program means students who complete the course of study are work-ready for manufacturing positions, small machine shops or “job shops,” as they are commonly called.

WCHS Advanced Manufacturing Teacher Brian Clawson said it is helpful to be able to teach students the basics of machine tooling operations on a manual machine before they go on to the CNC (Computer Numerical Controlled) machine.

WCHS seniors Jacob Goodhew and Trenton Sanders said they plan on studying and working to become mechanical engineers and are glad to have such an advanced program available to help accomplish their career goals.

“Mr. Clawson says it is helpful at the management level to be a more well-rounded employee with experience at all levels of manufacturing, with experience and knowledge of how the process works on the factory floor as well as at other stages of production and distribution,” Sanders said.

“We’ve given this a lot of thought,” Goodhew added, “after all, it’s something we’ll be doing for the rest of our lives.”

Clawson said having the Larry E. Fast Advanced Manufacturing Center in place, means the school corporation will likely someday offer night classes for unemployed and underemployed adults in the community. Another possibility, he said is that local auto parts manufacturer TOA which now sends workers to Ivy Tech in Richmond, could someday train workers at the high school after hours instead.

The Advanced Manufacturing curriculum is open to students from all school systems in Randolph County.

“Mr. Fast has been a complete blessing to us as a school and a community,” Clawson said. “This gives students the opportunity to learn a skilled trade. They can learn the foundation of how to run these machines and go out and be a productive member of society. These trades now have a huge skill gap, with nobody of a young age coming into these positions.”

Clawson said students are job-ready when they finish the program. They’re not experts, but they will know how to read blueprints, micrometers, and calipers and they can set up, program and run a machine. The program currently offers three job-level work certifications and starting next year will offer an additional three, for a total of six industry certifications.

“I grew up in Winchester when it was a booming little town with lots of manufacturing jobs,” Fast said. “I’m hoping some kids will get the technical training they need to get jobs that will help support a family. It’s certainly a labor of love. I’ve been involved in not for profits for most of my life, but this is head and shoulders above everything else in which I’ve been involved. I just couldn’t be more excited. I appreciate the support of Superintendent Abraham and his staff, the teachers, the school board and the county economic development staff. I’ve seen nothing but commitment and dedication at every level throughout this process.”